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Keys to a healthy holiday from SOKO

The food and drink is definitely abundant this time of year making it even easier to pack on the pounds. The cold weather tends to drive us inside and it’s easy to cover up a few extra pounds with the new fleece you got for Christmas.

For some, the pounds melt off once warm weather returns and they stop eating comfort casseroles and go back to eating chicken breast and salad every day. However, for most of us, those love handles and beer bellies can be really stubborn. It seems this is especially true as we get older.

SOKO Outfitters is committed to keeping Eastern Iowa fit, active and healthy so we sought out a local expert in weight management, Linda Hodges, DO. In addition to being an internist and intensivist (intensivists care for the sickest hospitalized patients in the intensive care unit) she is also board certified in obesity medicine. Physicians that specialize in obesity medicine focus on treating patients with excess weight, at the health consequences it can bring. She recognizes that so many people are unsuccessful when trying to lose weight, or not successful for long-term, because there is no “one size fits all” approach to weight loss. Dr. Hodges stresses an individual approach to each person, understanding the stressors in their lives, their past successes and failures, and incorporates that into a long term, sustainable plan for being healthy.

The ”Food Pyramid” Myth

The “Food Pyramid” that we learned as kids is actually part of the problem. In that classic model, carbohydrates were heavily emphasized. Most of us grew up thinking grain-based carbohydrates were good (think, “breakfast cereals and pancakes”). It turns out that we need far fewer carbohydrates than we thought (and some individuals need even less!). Excess carbohydrates can be quickly stored as fat in today’s age of sedentary activity. Dr Hodges points out that choosing good fats and proteins that are satiating are one of the keys to a good diet. One of the first things that Dr Hodges recommends to her patients is counting their carbohydrates over a period of time (by keeping a nutrition log) and then simply cutting those carbohydrates in half. Dr Hodges states, “you can have carbohydrates of any kind and when you want them, but if you set a limit on the actual number of carbs you eat, that is one of the first steps in achieving consistent weight loss.” She compares this to balancing a budget at home or doing your taxes. If you don’t count up all the bills that you spend money on and itemize them, there is no way that you can keep your bank account balanced. The same goes for keeping good account of your calories. Dr. Hodges isn’t “anti-carb”, but simply sees excessive carb consumption being a major cause of obesity – particularly processed carbohydrates (stuff made in factories).

A Successful “Diet”

It seems like there is a new fad diet with every season change making it nearly impossible to know which ones might be credible. Dr. Hodges has many first-time patients that come to her and tell her about all the diets that they have tried and failed. She recognizes how hard these folks are actually working at being healthy and yet they are frequently frustrated by lack of success.

I asked her why it is that people can try diligently at these diets and still fail. She points out that we are all born with a certain genetic predisposition that predicts some of our body shape, but that doesn’t mean you are stuck with a shape you don’t like. Some aspects of this can be modified, but some can’t. One of the biggest things she teaches is acceptance of things that are simply out of our control – such as being a petite, stocky build in a long, lean, supermodel world. She says “you’ll never be long and lean, no matter how much you try – you just aren’t built that way. It’s not a character flaw! It’s DNA!”

Eating foods you like is always an option, but it has to be disciplined. Similarly, it becomes much harder to shed the weight that once upon a time used to come off easily when we were younger. There are many metabolic and hormone changes that occur as we get older and these have a direct impact on what we do with the calories we consume. While behavior has to be modified as we age with respect to all aspects of life, there are just some things that change as we get older.

Many diets try to force the person into eating a specific type of food. That doesn’t often work and even when pounds come off, it is very restrictive and so longevity becomes an issue. Dr Hodges says that “nothing is off limits” if you have a “budget” of each type of nutritional currency to spend each day. Once you reach that limit, it is critical that you cut yourself off. Dr Hodges breaks her patients’ diet down and gives them a very specific daily balance of what they need and what they want and finds that balance. She also uses several of the many available apps to make logging your diet easier. She recommends that if you are doing this on your own that you use one of these apps. She states having he data to look at is helpful when things aren’t working. “You wouldn’t go to your financial planner asking for advice without providing him or her with data about your finances and expect guesswork – you must have data to see what’s working and what isn’t.” She points out that you wouldn’t guess with your money, so why guess with your food? She personally finds “My Fitness Pal” and “Lose It” to be very user friendly.

Simple steps for food prep

Another key to weight loss that Dr Hodges discussed was the idea of always being prepared. We have all seen the Snickers Bar commercial with the actor who is “hangry” and has to grab an emergency candy bar to revert back to their normal self. I think we can all identify with that. Shopping smart is critical to avoid this dilemma. Having nutritious snacks available in your home, car, purse, etc, and NOT storing easy-to-grab high calorie/high carb gut bombs around is paramount. Having to rely on the vending machine for a quick fix is a recipe for failure. Dr Hodges mentions that whole foods are what she tries to focus on but she does make some recommendations for meal replacements bars and other commercially available items that can be kept in store for emergencies.

Dr. Hodges certainly recognizes the idea of binge eating and eating to “soothe” oneself. This is all too common. Food can act just like a drug and give us a little dose of dopamine and other brain chemicals that provide a brief moment of relief. Eating as a form of stress relief, or self-soothing, has become a big problem. That is why she works closely with her patients’ doctors to make sure they are getting the medication and counseling to treat those symptoms as part of the long term goal of weight loss and healthy living.

First diet, then exercise

Only after diet modifications have been firmly established does Dr. Hodges start to focus on exercise. If you are someone that is already exercising but still struggling to get the weight off, there is no need to stop working out. However, many of us, despite good intentions, simply can’t exercise enough to compensate for the excessive amount of food we consume – the chips, fries, alcohol and deserts. Dr. Hodges emphasizes that the first focus is always diet. Once prepping, planning, and dietary changes are more routine, exercise become a focus, although “moving” and avoiding excessive sitting will be discussed up front.

If you aren’t an exerciser, Dr. Hodges recognizes that starting slow is key. She actually focuses more on “movement” first and then exercise. Movement strategies include: Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking on the far side of the lot, walking the dog after work instead of just letting them outside in the backyard. If you have children, one thing that happens is asking the kids to grab you this or that – instead of going upstairs and grabbing the item yourself. These are the initial keys of incorporating fitness. After movement has become a habit, then it’s time to incorporate scheduled exercise.

Dr. Hodges emphasizes there are no promises of quick results. If the pounds come off quick, they also go back on quick. So many of her patients have spent countless dollars on programs, meal replacements, best seller books, and gym memberships they never use. And, they’ve not done this just once, but multiple times over the years. The key is a mindset shift that accepts dietary regimentation. (If you understand your spending has to be regimented and limited, why can we not accept that food is no different?) While that isn’t as sexy as some crazy superfood or pill that promises to shed the fat, it IS the only way to maintain a healthy weight. If we want to be healthy and successful at our weight loss journey, we have to change the way our minds think about this entire endeavor. Dr Hodges is quick to say “weight loss starts with your mind…not with your behind.”

We encourage questions to this post to begin a dialogue and have even discussed having Dr. Hodges as a guest at SOKO Outfitters. Let us know if you have specific questions and especially let us know if you would be interested in attending a group session at the store to hear Dr. Hodges speak and have a chance to personally ask questions about developing your healthy new mindset.

In the meantime, check out her ebook HERE

Thanks for visiting our blog. And remember, nature is waiting…GO THERE!!!

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